How To Make A Picture Abstract

By | 27/10/2022

16 ways to make a painting more abstract, with practical suggestions to try

I of the most popular questions I hear from artists is some variation on
‘how can I brand a painting more abstruse?’

So many of us come from a background that told us ‘good art = realistic art”, and information technology can exist hard to break abroad from that into something more abstract and expressive.

And information technology doesn’t take much exploring to discover that making effective abstract fine art is a lot harder than it might first appear!

Making a painting more than abstract, or, equally I would call it, abstractifying, is substantially
a process of simplification, which is not to say the result won’t be rich and complex.

It involves a combo of intuitive and deliberate decisions, between which you trip the light fantastic toe every bit you lot bring a painting to life.

Below are xvi practical ways you tin begin brand your paintings more than abstract.

You certainly don’t have to utilize them all, and I suggest not trying to right away – manner too overwhelming!

Focusing on one thing at a time allows you to fully explore its potential and integrate information technology into your natural way of painting. Or not.

I’thousand focusing on acrylics but most, if not all, of these suggestions can be used with oils likewise, and some with watercolours or other mediums.

If you decide to try whatever of them,
telephone call information technology an experiment
to accept the pressure level off. Simply notice in what ways trying something new or different affects the kind of art you create. If you don’t like it, try something else!

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1. Doing and undoing

Many artists work this way –
adding and removing repeatedly
throughout a painting. It’s not but most removing ‘mistakes’; taking off paint tends to leave an interesting residue, and layers can be built up quite subtly this way, with hints of what went earlier being revealed here and in that location. I commonly utilize my goad wedge or a baby wipe or rag to remove paint.

Endeavour this:
For every 2 or 3 marks you make, ‘undo’ ane. Information technology’southward challenging, but will really help y’all empathise so many things virtually painting – not attachment, what layers can exercise, the impact a tiny splash of incidental color tin can have, how ideas about time and history and human being nature tin can be expressed, and on and on.

2. Edit edit edit

A successful painting has often been ruthlessly edited, whether on the canvas itself or from thousands of hours of making fine art and learning what doesn’t need to be included. Realistic art tends to include everything you tin come across; to motility away from that you need to start leaving things out.

How can you reduce something down to its essence?

For example, in many of my paintings I similar to include the idea of steps or ladders; I started out drawing the steps in in a 3D way, and kept editing until it just became a series of wonky lines, as in the bottom left corner of this 1:

Tara Leaver

Try this:
Take out the non essentials as much as you can; it won’t always be clear what these are until you have action but yous can lay a piece of coloured or white newspaper over an surface area you’re thinking of editing to get a feel for how information technology might look. Or do reducing an paradigm you lot love to its simplest grade in your sketchbook.

iii. Unify with glazes

A glaze will bring a painting or section of a painting together
when things are looking a fleck scattered. Layers of glazes can create a translucent glow. You can purchase all sorts of mediums to create glazes, like this i by Gilt or this 1 by Liquitex.

Y’all can use h2o to create glazes but behave in heed it breaks downwardly the binders in acrylics and can make them lose their archival abilities and/or lightfastness in the long term.

Try this:
Buy a small canteen of glazing liquid and offset playing with adding varying amounts of it to your acrylics to see what kinds of furnishings you can make. When you feel similar you lot accept a good thought of how it works, try using a glaze to bring a painting together equally its final phase.

iv. Use larger tools to help relinquish control

Often when you lot’re used to making more realistic art,the habit of perfecting can create difficulties when transitioning to more expressive abstract work. Decorator’southward brushes, a catalyst wedge, credit cards, randomly chosen collage, squeegee, roller, easily, or any number of other things that aren’t tiny paintbrushes will help you move away from fiddliness and soften everything upwardly.

Consider going in just towards the terminate with a small brush or pen for details.

Attempt this:Effort making a short series of paintings using but big and unwieldy tools. This will forcefulness you to discover inventive ways to make expressive marks that aren’t notwithstanding or tiny and fiddly. I find a quick and fun way to practice this is to lay out a few pieces of paper and work on them all together, doing one mark on each before changing colour or tool, similar this.

5. Allow paint to follow its nature

Paint has its ain personality and quirks the aforementioned as we do. If you let it do its thing, it can bring
spontaneity and the unexpected

to your painting, which rigid adherence to realism does not.

Effort this:
Water downward your paints, use a spray bottle on them, or use acrylic inks and allow them drip and spread. Use heavy trunk acrylics to create impasto – thick smears of buttery color that stand out from the canvass. Let the pigment evidence you what it wants to do and see what happens if you lot go with it.

6. Less description, more suggestion

One affair well-nigh realistic painting is that it trains the states to exist very literal. We endeavour to draw and paint exactly what nosotros’re seeing, only a lot of the time it tin mean cartoon and painting what nosotros

nosotros’re seeing, which is not always the same thing! And is why we often experience dissatisfied with what we’ve done.

This painting below uses lost and institute lines {ie. lines that fade in and out and are of unlike thicknesses}, smudged cryptic areas, and ‘unrealistic’ shapes to move the effigy into something a little more abstractified.

After Modigliani

Attempt this: Start realistic and proceed pushing it, softening or partially overlaying edges, adding glazes and textures and loose marks to rough information technology up. Lost and found lines, smudged areas, collage cutting into shapes, and whatsoever means you tin can call up of to soften edges and loosen everything upward tin can be actually helpful in moving abroad from that kind of literal interpretation and towards a more expressive, complimentary form way.

seven. ‘Discover’ the painting

One great – and as well challenging – approach is to start fully abstract and pull the painting out of that. Y’all can encounter how creative person Mel McCuddin does that in this video – he brings figures out of his but it works for whatever intuitive paintings including abstracts. We go into this in more depth in Loosen Up.

Try this:
Go crazy and accept fun throwing paint downward in whatever colours and configurations yous like, then have a stride dorsum and turn it a few times to come across if there are the beginnings of something you might pull out from it. Work on newspaper if that helps to psychologically stay unattached to outcomes and avoid preciousness. Information technology’due south simply an experiment!

This little workshop offers a very simple and meditative way to do this: Calm from Chaos – get admission to it within the Happy Creative person Studio!

8. Include a bit of both

You don’t accept to abandon realism altogether, and it might be easier to sort of ‘slide’ out of information technology fleck past chip. Plus,
contrast is your friend! And not just in values or marks, but in subjects within a single painting too.

Here’southward one of my paintings with a ‘bit of both’ {and fifty-fifty that’southward pretty loose!}:

The Choice / Tara Leaver

Try this:
Attempt allowing a section of your painting to exist more realistic or literal, and make the rest abstract. This could hateful leaving information technology looking unfinished, or introducing shapes that don’t ‘make sense’. Your realistic area tin can be – and probable will naturally exist – the focal point, and the abstract shapes or areas can ascertain and support that through the contrast.

9. Utilize your non dominant hand

This never fails to create
looser, quirkier fatigued lines with real character. You may not like the naive, slightly awkward expect it can create but it’southward worth trying information technology simply for the feel of relinquishing some command and seeing what comes of it.

Try this:At the betoken where you’d normally draw in your subject – whether that’s correct at the start or after you have some colours down – draw your subject with your non dominant mitt and at a decent speed, and resist the temptation to erase and redraw any of it or neaten it upwards. {Depending on where y’all’re at with the transition to abstruse this might experience quite excruciating! Effort it anyhow!}

10. Use texture

Texture is a peachy friend to abstruse fine art.
In the absence of recognisable imagery, you can amp up other aspects.

For example, you lot can apply texture paste or actual sand mixed into the paint to suggest something {like a embankment} without actually ‘describing’ it, or simply as an end in itself. Information technology tin can also be created with different kinds of tools, or past dry brushing.

Hither’s an experimental textured painting I made using plaster and blue acrylic. I created a cardboard ‘frame’ to sit around a wood panel, poured the plaster in, and when it had started to set, added the bluish, then drew lines out from information technology with a toothpick. The inspiration was the rivulets in sand when the tide goes out, also as the view of river tributaries from the sky.

Ocean // Tara Leaver

Try this:
Create a painting that focuses on texture, varying rough with smooth. Yous could employ stencils with some kind of texture paste or a thick layer of gesso, or a palette knife or sandpaper to rough upwards the paint.

11. Cultivate loss of control and happy accidents

The best fashion I know of to exercise this is to piece of work
wet into wet. I often paint a canvas or slice of paper with water earlier going in with the pigment or acrylic inks. Information technology immediately removes your controlling input, and creates beautiful soft layers. Marlene Dumas does this to fascinating effect, something we become into in more depth in Loosen Upwards and Artist Inspired Two.

Try this:Use a spray bottle or wet brush to add together h2o in random places on your newspaper or sheet. Then start adding colour and see what happens. So easy and actually fun. If you let each layer dry or use a pilus dryer, you lot can meet how it helps build translucent layers.

12. Disrupt

An extension of including ‘a bit of both’ equally in number viii, disrupting can be scary to do just can yield
fascinating and heady results
that you never could have done if you were using your encephalon!

These ii paintings below, originally one, came near this manner; I would never have thought of the pink swipe, or been able to create that kind of unpredictable mark past trying. And cutting the one painting in one-half to brand these two disrupted it over again of grade.

Tara Leaver

Try this:
1 way to do this is to have a big brush in your non dominant hand, dip it in one or two colours – peradventure colours that you haven’t used already or have more of on your palette – turn your back {or close your eyes} and make a couple of swipes. For double disrupt points, cutting your painting in one-half. 😉

13. Mostly, some, and a bit

This thought comes from The Simple Underground to Amend Painting by Greg Albert. The thought is that in whatever painting, if y’all use mostly ane colour, some of another, and just a scrap of another, you tin create a painting that works. It also works for the characteristics of colours, so yous could utilize by and large warm tones, some neutral/warm, and a bit of cool for contrast.

Try this:
Choose three colours in varying quantities so that you have ane main color, less of the second, and but a bit of the third. It may accept some trial and error, and I recommend getting Greg Albert’s volume to really analyze how to do it, only tricks like this can really transform your understanding and the quality of your work.

For bonus points yous could beginning looking at paintings to run into how and where the artists have used this formula.

14. Mess with your reference paradigm

When I use a reference prototype,
I always think about how I tin can alter what’s there to brand it stronger and more than my own
. What can I remove from the scene, shift slightly, enlarge, or make smaller to strengthen the composition and outset to arrive more than abstract? And I always change the colours.

If you lot find it hard to shift into non local colour at this betoken {ie. colour that is nothing to do with the colours of the original subject}, you can utilise apps to experiment. Below are some very quick adjustments I made to a simple photo using A Colour Story and the Diana app, which combines two photos to create interesting layered images.

Clockwise from superlative left: original image | adapted past manipulating the ‘curves’ chemical element in A Colour Story app | using ‘hue shift’ in A Color Story | layering the third image with i of my paintings in Diana Photo

Try this:
Choose an image that sparks something for you – perhaps one with a strong composition y’all could borrow, or a very clear focal indicate around which you can develop a painting.

Apply an app similar Snapseed {iPhone | Android}  or A Color Story to play effectually with things like dissimilarity, saturation and colours, to go a feel for how y’all could translate even something quite ordinary into a vibrant and interesting abstractified painting.

15. Restrict your colour palette

Reducing the amount of colours you utilize tin can be practiced practice in learning how values work and make for bold and punchy paintings while keeping things relatively uncomplicated.

For example, you could only use dejection with varying values, such every bit Paynes Gray for your dark, Ultramarine for your midtone, and add together white to one or both for your lightest values. Or y’all could use three dissimilar colours – only make sure they are sufficiently varied in value, such as Van Dyke Brown, Cadmium Red, and Lemon Xanthous.

Try this:Pick three colours, a night, a mid tone and a lite {squint to assistance you discern}. Use the dark for your focal signal, and the mid and light everywhere else. Use a tiny fleck of the light to create a highlight in the dark area, or correct adjacent to it, to help it pop. You could refer to the ‘mostly, some and a bit’ concept from number 13 to brand this even more effective.

16. Slow fade

For creating a articulate focal point and keeping things simple and minimal, let the edges of the painting fade out to black or white or any color fits your painting. Or but color block out everything but the subject, every bit I did in this painting:

Two Boats // Tara Leaver

Endeavour this:
In one case you’ve reached a point quite far along in your painting – when you lot have a focal indicate and various other bits and bobs going on – choose a colour from the palette you’re using and start softening out the edges around the focal point. See how much you dare to blend abroad!

Several of y’all have asked for a PDF of these points to go along in your art space, and lo! I have created one for y’all! Click the button below to download your costless copy.

Click here to download the PDF of 16 ways to make a painting more abstract

This list is by no means exhaustive, but there’s enough here to explore and examination for yourself! Practise yous take whatever favourite means to move abroad from realism and towards abstraction? Share in the comments!